Jesse LeBeau, left, helps Destiny Cleveland, 17, spin a basketball during his Pillars of America speech at Centennial Hall on Wednesday, April 17, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Jesse LeBeau, left, helps Destiny Cleveland, 17, spin a basketball during his Pillars of America speech at Centennial Hall on Wednesday, April 17, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Pillars speaker spurs on youths’ dreams and ambitions

Jesse LeBeau highlights his family, Southeast roots

Before Jesse LeBeau helped sell expensive basketball sneakers for Kobe Bryant or the “Black Mamba,” through shoe commercials, it was “Bob Mamba” who sold him on important life values.

LeBeau, the first of three speakers headlining this year’s Pillars of America Speaker Series, inspired over 500 attendees in Centennial Hall to set goals and have the courage to follow through with them. The Ketchikan native relayed childhood humiliations that nearly derailed his pursuit to play basketball at the highest levels.

One of the more poignant moments arrived about midway through the 45-minute talk, when LeBeau singled out his dad, or “Bob Mamba” seated at one of the front tables.

“When we were playing baseball on the Little League field, or he was rebounding 10,000 free throws for me in one month after I won the Elks Hoop Shoot or even when I was playing soccer,” LeBeau said, “he always taught me that it was bigger than the game and it’s the lessons that you learn through sports that are so important.”

[Before he was an actor, he was a small town hoops star. He’s back to share his story]

LeBeau had the room’s rapt attention the moment he ran on stage with a basketball. As hip-hop music filled the convention center, LeBeau twirled the basketball from his fingers, spinning it along his arms and behind his head and even balancing on it for several seconds.

The actor, who was a stunt performer on the feature-length basketball movie “Thunderstruck” and has appeared in TV shows and commercials, gave Yaakoosgé Daakahidi High School sophomore Gabe Morrison a $100 bill and backpack full of goodies. Morrison was the first to the stage after LeBeau dangled the loot and asked, “Who wants it?”

“Taking action is the biggest thing that separates winning from losing in our lives,” LeBeau said after giving away the big bill. “Too often, we wait, we hope, we dream, we mediate, we write a pros and cons list, we ask our friends, we ask Snapchat. … All those things aren’t bad, they’re good, they’re all part of the process. But at a certain point, an opportunity presents itself, and you either act … or you can just sit and not have a new backpack with $100, two DVDs, two frisbees.”

LeBeau spent much the speech exhorting the youth to face their struggles head on. Afterward, an autograph line stretched several hundred feet from the stage, each teenager eager to share a word with the genial affable story teller.

“There’s a lot of people who are going through difficult things, and if you’re one of those people, my encouragement for you today is for you to speak up,” LeBeau said near the end of the speech. “Just like that. Take action with the example of Gabe. If you don’t take action, if you don’t find an adult, a mentor, a friend that you can share what’s going on to, it’s very unlikely it’s going to get better.”

Morrison said he learned a valuable lesson from LeBeau.

“I learned that no one can tell you what to do when you believe in it,” Morrison said. “You need to believe in yourself; no one else.”

• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.

More in Sports

Lucas White (21) and two other Huskies take down a player from Dimond High School on Saturday, Aug. 21. Juneau coach Rich Sjoroos said solid tackling by White and others played a major role in the Huskie's 27-14 win against Bartlett High School. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
7 points: Huskies make it 3 in a row

Next game is senior night.

Payton Grant, left, plays football against East Anchorage High School on Sept. 4, 2021. Grant scored in last week’s away game against Service High School. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
7 points: Juneau football brings the heat to Service in away game

It’s Juneau’s first road win for the season.

Juneau's Wallace Adams, a senior, trudges forward while draped in East Anchorage defenders. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
7 points: Huskies outlast East Anchorage

Takeaways from Saturday’s game and a look ahead.

The Juneau Huskies practice on Aug. 10. The high school football team's record stands at 2-1 following a loss to West Anchorage over the weekend. On Saturday, Juneau will host East Anchorage. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
7 points: Despite good first half, West Anchorage takes Huskies down

Juneau turns in a solid performance on an away game.

Rayna Tuckwood, Juneau-Douglas High School: Kalé sophomore, sprints to the finish during a cross country race at Savikko Park on Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021. Tuckwood would place first with a time of 20:20 as the JDHS girls took the first five places. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)
Cross country teams coming out of the gates hot

JDHS girls scored a perfect meet: five-for-five.

FILE - This Jan. 29, 2014 file photo shows former Denver Broncos offensive lineman and ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth in New York.   Schlereth returned home to Alaska this week to encourage people to get the COVID-19 vaccine.  The Service High alumnus made a halftime appearance Friday, Aug. 20, 2021 at West High, where his alma mater squared off against the West Eagles.  (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey, File)
Ex-NFL player Mark Schlereth urges Alaskans to get vaccine

“I just want to encourage everybody to do your part.”

Gaby Soto crosses the goal line to put six points on the board for the Huskies in Juneau’s first high school football game in nearly two years. Soto scored three touchdowns for the Huskies in the first half. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
7 points: Juneau wins big in season opener

Seven takeaways from the first game in two years

Members of the Juneau Huskies practice on Tuesday. After COVID-19 forced the cancelation of the 2020 high school football season, the Juneau Huskies are eager to take the field for the season opener against Colony High School. The varsity and JV squad will both play Saturday, August 14 on the field at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park. (Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)
Huskies football returns —after nearly 700 days between games

The Juneau high school football team prepares to take the field.

Runners from the Juneau-Douglas High School: Kalé cross country team practice during the preseason. (Courtesy photo / Tristan Knutson-Lombardo)
Cross country teams gaining speed and numbers

Both high schools are looking at substantial rosters this year.

Members of Glacier Swim Club’s winning 13-14 girls 400-meter free relay team from Summer Champs pose for a photo. The team includes Valerie Peimann, Pacific Ricke, Dannan Mills and Caitlin Sanders. (Courtesy Photo)
It’s a busy time for local swim club

Big meets in the past, tryouts in the future.

Gold medalist Lydia Jacoby of the United States celebrates on the podium after the final of the women’s 100-meter breaststroke at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan.(AP Photo / Matthias Schrader)
Seward embraces state’s 1st swimmer to win gold

“What happened last night couldn’t happen to a nicer kid,” he said.